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Straight from the sauce

Imagine having a Big Hairy Audacious Goal to expand your business into a new city.  You’ve done your market research and due diligence, you’re confident with your business plans, and you’ve commenced construction. Then a global pandemic hits. What do you do?

This is the exact circumstance that Mike Clarke, Founder of Sauce Brewing Co faced in March 2020, when he told his construction team to “down tools”.

After a three-month break due to the global pandemic, construction on Cairns newest craft beer brewery recommenced in July, and the Brewery officially opened to the public last month.

Sauce Brewing Cairns is Mike’s second instalment in the Sauce Brewing family, having opened the flagship brewery in the inner-west Sydney suburb of Marrickville four years ago.

No stranger to the peaks and pitfalls of startups, Mike attributes his career success to a combination
of foresight, determination, work ethic, and luck.

We chatted with Mike about his investment in Cairns at this time, and plans for the future of Sauce Brewing Cairns, an ambitious goal by anyone’s standard, let alone at the time of such economic uncertainty.

What was your career before you became a craft beer brewer?

After spending the first ten years of my life an employee in the IT, networking and internet field, I was ready to branch out and build something on my own.

VOIP was a brand new technology back then, so it appealed to my entrepreneurial spirit but was also something not too foreign given my networking experience.

I joined forces with a friend, and we spent the best part of a year developing the business model, working out the technical side, and trying to get interconnect agreements with the big carriers. The technology was so new, and there were a lot of blank faces when we explained what we were trying to do, so that definitely hindered our search for private equity funding.

Always budget for more than you think you’ll need because everything costs more than you anticipate!

Eventually, with the help of a small grant and a business advisor, we launched the business. Fast forward eight years, I had bought out my business partner, the business was running well and was quite profitable, but we needed scale.

I approached a couple of industry peers about joining forces and creating a bigger player in the market. 

As it happened, one of those peers was having similar thoughts. They bought my company and listed on the ASX, and I stayed on as Chief Technical Officer, but honestly, I didn’t love the corporate life. I was ready to break away and do my own thing again and create something new again.

Craft beer was a passion and I’d been brewing at home or a few years. The craft beer space was taking off in Australia and so the rest, as they say, is history.

I sold all my shares in the Telco and invested in the creation of Sauce Brewing Co and setting up the brewery in Marrickville.

This time around, it’s a lot more fun than the IT/telco game!

What is your goal for Sauce Brewing Co?

My mission was, and is, to be one of the top ten independent craft breweries in Australia. For me, it’s all about creating really flavoursome beers that push the envelope, but still taste great and are able to enjoy many times over.

I’m a self-confessed hop-head, so IPA’s are my go-to beer.

But more than that, Sauce is about variety. We will always have a diverse range of beers on tap, and you’d be hard-pressed not to find something you like in our tap list – even if you don’t like beer!

The thing I love about this game is seeing the happiness on the face of someone who is enjoying our beer.   And let’s face it, that is far more rewarding than the IT/telco sector could ever be!

Cairns is a town built on small businesses. What measures do you have in place to support the Cairns region and its economy? 

It is my mission to source locally made products and services as much as I can, and as a result, almost everything in Sauce Brewing Cairns has been created here in Cairns.  I’m very proud of that commitment to supporting the local economy.

I want Sauce Brewing Cairns to be a place where locals meet, so it makes sense to create that culture from the outset.

The brewery fit-out was supplied using local trades, from RC Harder and Myriad Design for the design and construction, Babinda Electrics, AirFirst and Elements Air & Refrigeration for the electrical and cooling, Aqwell Plumbing, Simplify and Gilboy Hydraulic Solutions.

And of course, all our staff are locals. We currently have 12 on staff, and as tourism returns and COVID restrictions are wound back, which we are already starting to see, this will increase.

Actually, I’m the only exception to the rule. I’m usually based in Sydney, although I keep dropping hints to the wife how nice it is in Cairns.

As much as possible, we source our fresh produce from the local area, and why wouldn’t you? The Tablelands have an abundance of options, and we have made sure to stock all the locally-made spirits in the bar and bottle shop too.

Pretty soon we’ll be working with the other breweries in the area to create a Far North Ale Trail, which will help to bring tourism back to Cairns once flights are up and going again.

We have a really large space, so I anticipate it will be an excellent venue for corporate events and networking lunches once COVID restrictions have lifted.

We have created a delicious function package, including samples of some of our most exciting menu items.  And the Chef is currently working on some impressive Christmas dining packages.

What are the main lessons have you learned in business?

The major lessons have all been about money.  Always budget for more than you think you’ll need because everything costs more than you anticipate!

Also, delays are inevitable. Things can and will go wrong, so you will need to be able to deal with a million things at once, and then deal with bigger, more important things as they are thrown at you.

In this industry, you need capital, resilience, lots of research, an understanding and appreciation of beer, more capital, and an ability to function on not much sleep.

Oh, and if you want to keep friendships, don’t go into business together!



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